Consistent headaches, or even migraine headaches, may be an unpleasant experience. When you find your head hurting for many hours or days at a time, you may start to suspect that there is something seriously wrong. Although headache pain is not always dangerous, it is worth finding out the cause.
Getting an MRI scan seems like the most obvious way to determine the cause of a headache; however, you do not need an imaging test most of the time. For primary and secondary headaches, your doctor will most likely be able to diagnose you based on your medical history and a thorough examination.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend MRI scans for headache pain. Such cases can include migraine symptoms, a new pattern of headaches, or when they suspect a brain tumour or brain lesions.
When Is an MRI Required for a Headache?
If you have a headache with certain symptoms, your doctor will say you need an MRI. The following symptoms will require an imaging test:
- Increase in the intensity of the headache pain.
- Headaches that change or becomes worse when you move.
- Constant headaches in people over the age of 50.
- Headache pain is always located in the same area.
- Pain that does not go away, even with pain medication.
- Sudden onset of severe headache pain.
- Headaches occur when you strain yourself, cough, or bend over.
- Migraine aura that persists for more than an hour.
- Headache coupled with weakness or difficulty speaking, walking or seeing.
- A headache that does not follow the usual pattern.
If you suspect you have any of these symptoms, you must contact your doctor immediately, and he will determine whether you need an MRI or CT scan.
Is an MRI or CT Scan Better for a Headache?
MRI scans and CT scans are commonly used to investigate headaches and migraines.
A CT scan uses X-rays to look inside the body and produce images. CT scans are very quick and used in emergencies, such as for suspected brain tumours, bleeding on the brain, or strokes.
MRI scans use magnetic fields for brain imaging. MRI scans produce more detailed images, and can be used for tumours, bleeding on the brain, issues with blood vessels in the brain, inflammation or investigating the spinal cord.
MRI scans take much longer than CT scans and are therefore not used in emergencies. They do, however, produce much higher quality images.
MRIs may not be able to identify primary headaches, as these do not have a diagnosable cause. They are useful in identifying a secondary headache if there is an underlying cause that a physical examination cannot determine.
How Does a Headache Show Up on an MRI?
An MRI cannot diagnose a primary headache with no underlying structural cause, such as a migraine or a tension headache.
MRIs help doctors investigate your brain and determine if there are any underlying causes for your headaches, such as brain tumours or injuries to your spinal cord.
A brain scan may show white spots on the brain. These white spots form part of a migraine diagnosis as they are found in the brains of migraine patients. The spots are called White Matter Hyperintensities, which are brain lesions that can cause a very severe headache or migraine.
What if the MRI Scan Is Clear, But I Still Get Headaches?
A person may have an MRI scan and find no sign of disease, but that does not mean the headache has gone away. The brain is a complex organ, and a CT scan or EEG will show a physical problem, but a doctor needs to rule out other things before jumping to conclusions.
A few different possibilities should be considered for anyone still suffering from headaches after their MRI. Perhaps the pain is caused by stress and anxiety, and some relaxation and meditation can lead to a cure.
A muscle imbalance in the body could cause the pain, and a Pilates class could be the answer. If you are still experiencing pain, schedule an appointment with a doctor or chiropractor, and you will be able to get the proper treatment.
If you suffer from recurring headaches, an MRI may determine the reason. Schedule an appointment with your doctor to rule out all possible causes with an MRI scan.